Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations / Edition 1

Hardcover (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from BN.com
(Save 34%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $9.70
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 76%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (16) from $9.70   
  • New (8) from $24.99   
  • Used (8) from $9.70   


Dirt, soil, call it what you want—it's everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it's no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are—and have long been—using up Earth's soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil—as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Montgomery (King of Fish), a geomorphologist who studies how landscapes change through time, argues persuasively that soil is humanity's most essential natural resource and essentially linked to modern civilization's survival. He traces the history of agriculture, showing that when humans exhausted the soil in the past, their societies collapsed, or they moved on. But moving on is not an option for future generations, he warns: there isn't enough land. In the U.S., mechanized agriculture has eroded an alarming amount of agricultural land, and in the developing world, degraded soil is a principal cause of poverty. We are running out of soil, and agriculture will soon be unable to support the world's growing population. Chemical fertilizers, which are made with lots of cheap oil, are not the solution. Nor are genetically modified seeds, which have not produced larger harvests or reduced the need for pesticides. Montgomery proposes an agricultural revolution based on soil conservation. Instead of tilling the land and making it vulnerable to erosion, we should put organic matter back into the ground, simulating natural conditions. His book, though sometimes redundant, makes a convincing case for the need to respect and conserve the world's limited supply of soil. Illus. not seen by PW. (May) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Times Higher Ed Sup (Thes)
“Anyone interested in environmental issues should read this book. . . . Entertains and stimulates thought.”
“Fascinating insights into what be our most precious natural resource and gives important pointers toward sustainable land management.”
Hobby Farms - Carol Ekarius
“How societies fare in the long run depends on how they treat their soils. Simple. Concise. You are your dirt.”
Environment & History
“Sobering. . . . A timely text that will no doubt stimulate the discussion of this issue, and its potential solutions, for years to come.”
Great Plains Research
“Strengthen[s] appreciation for how important the soil is to our existence.”
The Perennial Bookworm
“This book is a thorough and enlightening treatment of the topic.”
Vadose Zone Journal
“Sounds an ever timely and necessary clarion call.”
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520248700
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 5/14/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 295
  • Sales rank: 972,377
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David R. Montgomery, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, is author of King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     IX
Good Old Dirt     1
Skin of the Earth     9
Rivers of Life     27
Graveyard of Empires     49
Let them Eat Colonies     83
Westward Hoe     115
Dust Blow     145
Dirty Business     179
Islands in Time     217
Life Span of Civilizations     233
Notes     247
Bibliography     251
Index     271
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 20, 2010

    A Review

    In the beginning of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, Montgomery describes the essential properties of "gold old dirt" and its importance as one of the most vital natural resources in sustaining vitality here on Earth. He goes on to present central features of a soil which are characteristic of three different soil layers (O, A, B, C). The main distinctions between these layers are variations in texture, levels of organic matter, water availability, temperature, compaction, aggregation, and different degrees of biodiversity. All of these features play a distinct role in the quality of a soil that contributes to an environment, which is conducive to plant life.

    However, Montgomery goes on to note that the advancement of humanity from hunters and gatherers to agricultural farmers led to the deprivation of soil quality. With the development of irrigational practices by the first civilizations - the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia and the Nile in Egypt - the utilization of the surrounding rivers as a water source became prominent for increasing crop yield. Even though the irrigational practices allowed these civilizations to thrive and flourish on multiple levels, these practices would eventually result in the progressive worsening of the civilizations' main foundational unit - soil. While salinization plagued the viability of plant life in soil with high levels of salt, soil erosion weathered the upper layer of the soil (O Layer), which may have been even more detrimental to soil degradation and the effects of plant life viability.

    So how did these civilizations survive? Montgomery believes that the Greeks held knowledge about practices that increased soil fertility and improved soil quality (i.e., crop rotations with legumes). However, they used these techniques to their advantage in order to maximize crop yield, which inadvertently contributed to the onset of soil exhaustion. Coupled with a need to feed a growing population, we see that technological innovations became central for maximizing crop yields even though such practices wasn't sustainable. Furthermore, Montgomery presented evidence to reinforce the idea that technological innovations perpetuated detriment to the quality of soil with a citation from Marsh that said "the capacity for damaging land also increased with technological sophistication." For example, the advent of technological innovations, such as the John Deere tractor, led to extreme amounts of tillage that left the soil unprotected and susceptible to the hostility of climatic turbulence. As a result, historical events such as the Dust Bowl caused the erosion of massive amounts of soil that was eventually driven across the northeast by wind gusts that left sediments across major metropolitan cities like New York and Boston. Montgomery also presented evidence to show how other forms of climatic change, such as global warming, could contribute to soil droughts and the alteration of many of the functional and physical features of soil.

    Overall: Great Book!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2007

    A reviewer

    I am going to be blunt, I know David, a wish I could work more closely with him. But all things said, David has written a book about a subject that is close to all our hearts, and so ignored and maligned. I hope that this book can make the New York Times bestseller list and become something that many will read. I am a environmentalist/geologist, and for years, I have been watching the destruction of the Puget Sound environment through a lack of decent erosion control, something that is beyond epidemic in proportion on the earth. In this book, David shows the effect this has had upon the people and places of this world, up to the recent past. It is a wonderful tale that makes soil erosion come alive in our world.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 29, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    What a history!

    Montgomery makes an excellent case for recasting the fall of civilizations based on our most basic abuse and neglect of the environment -- soils. And we know better! We continue to ignore the current signs and past histories of this destruction in our pursuit of wealth and often just immediate survival. This book should be required reading for everyone.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)